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Ten weird and fascinating things every Londoner needs to see at... the Natural History Museum

Ten weird and fascinating things every Londoner needs to see at... the Natural History Museum
© Trustees of NHM, London

Cursed jewels, exotic beasts and mysterious terrors of the deep – for centuries everything strange and peculiar has fascinated our curious little minds. With an 80 million-strong collection, the curators at London's Natural History Museum aren't at all strangers to things wonderfully creepy and wildly eccentric. The weirdest and scariest of the bunch live in the Darwin Centre, a magical building home to 22 million barmy specimens that cover a colossal 27 kilometres of floor and shelve space. From 'oh hell no' gasp-inducing scary snakes to ginormous squids, you can go and see these magnificent monsters for yourself on the awesome 'Spirit Collection' tour. Along with some of the stars from the main collection, here are ten of the weirdest, most fascinating and absolutely terrifying things you'll see at this national treasure.  

1. Archie (the 8.62-metre giant squid)

 

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Archie is a special giant squid, so special in fact that her cool pad was designed by the same company who built the formalin-filled tanks for Damien Hirst's cow and shark artworks of the 1990s. Discovered by a group of fishermen near the Falkland Islands, she's the largest specimen the museum has ever preserved – so large that nobody actually knows how much she weighs because the big old thing broke the scales! 

Where to find it: You can hear more about this chubby giant squid's story on the Spirit Collection tour.

2. The cursed amethyst

Natural History Museum, London

This cursed amethyst has a spooky, 'American Horror Story'-like tale attached to it. According to legend, this damned gem is 'trebly cursed' and is 'stained with the blood and dishonour of everyone who has ever owned it'. Passed on from one unfortunate Londoner to the next, (including one poor soul who killed himself after owning it) the stone was donated to the museum by Edward Heron-Allen, a petrified Victorian who tried to destroy the jewel several times. Before palming the gem off to the museum, Edward had the amethyst mounted in a silver ring in the form of a snake, decorated in zodiacal plaques and scarab pendants – no wonder it's cursed. 

Where to find it: See it if you dare in the Vault Gallery.   

3. Diamond dust

This vial of magical space dust made up of millions of microscopic diamonds is older than our own freaking solar system and contains the OLDEST speckles of space powder you will ever see. It formed from an exploding star billions of years ago and eventually became part of the materials that make up our own lovely solar system. 

Where to find it: The Vault gallery.

 4. Darwin's pet octopus

Natural History Museum, London

The Natural History Museum is home to hundreds of specimens collected by Charles Darwin. The famous naturalist collected this cute octopus in the Cape Verde Islands and actually wrote about the little critter in his diary, recording how he watched it scuttling amongst the rock pools. Captain Fitzroy, the ship's captain said that 'Darwin was like a child on Christmas morn playing with his octopus' – whatever floats your tentacles, eh? The octopus was kept alive for a few days in a small tank before eventually ending up in the museum's archives.

Where to find it: For a glimpse of Darwin's octopus (pictured above), you'll need to go to the stunning 'Colour and Vision' exhibition.  

5. The hairy anglerfish

Natural History Museum

If the devil had an aquarium it would be full of these nasty and ghastly monsters. This fugly fish has been wowing researchers since it was caught near the Cape Verde islands back in 1999. Its massive stomach is said to contain the remains of its final meal – let's just hope it's not Dory or Nemo's cousins trapped in there. This particular species of anglerfish is so rare (it's one of only 17 ever discovered on the planet) that the scientists at the museum didn't want to risk cutting it open through fear of never seeing a whole one again.

Where to find it: You can see this hairy guy on the 'Spirit Collection' tour.  

6. The giant and extremely ugly female anglerfish

Natural History Museum

You've probably guessed by now that deep-sea anglerfish aren't the prettiest creatures swimming around in the deep blue sea. Weirdly, the small smudge under this whopper of a female is a teeny-weeny male anglerfish. It's the huge and weird variation in male-to-female body size that gets scientists giddy with excitement. Isn't the science behind sexual dimorphism just awesome? 

Where to see her: You can see this fabulous babe on the 'Spirit Collection' tour.

7. The 'cookie cutter' shark

 

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This weird and frankly terrifying set of teeth belongs to the infamous 'cookie cutter' shark. The beast is named for the way it bores a wound in whales, dolphins (yes, even Flipper gets eaten) and other large fish at meal time. The shark pounces on its prey, ferociously grips its sides and gouges out a tasty, disc-shaped chunk of flesh. Lovely. 

Where to find it: You'll see them on the 'Spirit Collection' tour.

8. Old moon rock

Natural History Museum

This shiny moon rock was brought back to earth by the astronauts of the Apollo 16 mission back in 1972. Weighing just 128 grams, it was cut from a lofty 5.5-kilo boulder of moonstone. It's incredible samples like this that help scientists learn more about the early origin and evolution of our moon. Rock samples like the one above have lead experts to conclude that the lunar surface of the moon was initially covered by a fiery magma ocean, which slowly crystalised and solidified creating the grey blob we now see in the night sky. See, rocks are not so boring. 

Where to find it: You'll see it in the Earth Hall right next to Sophie the Stegosaurus. 

9. Homo naledi

© Berger et al/Natural History Museum

Most people would admit that it's a pretty weird experience staring at people who have been dead for 2 million years. These incredible bone casts, which belong to at least 15 people were hidden deep in a South African cave and are the remains of an ancient human species. The mosaic of bones is named after its discovery site – naledi, meaning star in the local Sotho language.

Where to see them: Trace the epic evolutionary journey of our ancient ancestors all the way up to the present in the Human Evolution gallery.  

10. An owl with a blue pencil in its ear 

Esther Simpson/Flickr

This crazed-looking bird had a pencil shoved down its ear to show us humans where an owl's ears actually are – surprisingly, they aren't those glorious tuffs you see on top. Where to find it: You'll find the poor thing in the Birds Gallery. 

Check out seven more wonders of the Natural History Museum

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